A tough lesson in human compassion
Interview with Jermain Cikic
Jermain Cikic is a photographer based in Amsterdam, and a familiar face on the MENDO team. This time we speak about his personal project ‘INSIDE OUT’. A project related to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which he created a story about the homeless people in and around a shelter in Amsterdam.
Currently studying in the Hague at the Royal Academy of Art in the direction of documentary photography. His body of work encompasses different disciplines, but in all genres he works with a direct and sincere approach. Playing right at the intersection between aesthetic creativity and uncompromising reality.
‘It was a tough lesson in human compassion.’
‘It was a tough lesson in human compassion.’
Jermain’s search for a project to capture began when the world was suddenly in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. After some contemplation, he decided to give the clothing he had collected for his family in Bosnia to a worthy cause a bit earlier than expected. There were probably others who could use this clothing even more urgently than his family. The clothing’s destination was a winter shelter for the homeless. The shelter was still closed when Jermain wanted to drop off his donation. Nevertheless, he was curious to see if many homeless people would in fact show up. And they did. Within half an hour the parking lot in front of the entrance was starting to get crowded. A line formed, held together by fences.
“We’re mostly waiting, for things to start moving, for the doors of the entrance to open and once we’re in, we’re waiting to leave again.”
“For me, the days since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown have been typified by people begging to go outside and complaining that sitting at home is too difficult. In that moment, that image was pulled into stark contrast with the people at this homeless shelter, standing in line for the privilege of going inside. Those who long for a safe house to call their own. Where they don’t have to constantly be on guard against people who might take their belongings. A home they don’t have to carry with them day after day in Albert Heijn bags and trolleys.”
This moment ignited a spark of fascination and compassion, which resulted in this photo series about homeless people in and around the winter shelter on the Transformatorweg in Amsterdam.
“Capturing a homeless shelter wasn’t just educational from a photographic perspective, but it was a tough lesson in human compassion as well, taught by the many conversations I had with the people around the center. Talking to these people and hearing their stories were a big inspiration to me, and have taught me to be very conscious every day of how much I take my welfare for granted.”
“It’s not about having sympathy for one another, it’s about empathy. People will always believe that nothing has to change, telling each other that we created this situation ourselves. These are the people who are unable to empathize with unknown situations, they will always say “this will never happen to me.”
This publication is meant to lend a voice to a disenfranchised part of our society. They are ghosts who wander our city in plain sight; the ghosts of our society’s mistakes. And nobody likes to look their mistakes in the eyes. But what defines a homeless person? It’s someone who doesn’t have a front door to shelter behind, but does that make them a bad person? I hope that this photo series encourages people to not only notice the homeless people in their surroundings, but also lend a helping hand. After all, everyone likes to be heard every now and then, and asked about how their day is going. Everyone likes to be looked in the eyes, and properly seen. I hope these images and their accompanying texts serve to inspire a sense of perspective, and a moment to reflect on the things, however small, that we can be grateful for.
“What’s missing is attention. Will you take the time for us and our situation? We have to travel from our current lack of understanding to a place where we can see a person, not their problems. Chances are, our journey there has completely escaped your attention.”
About the book
INSIDE OUT by Jermain Cikic is a personal and evocative documentation of a homeless shelter in Amsterdam, at the hight of the COVID-19 crisis. The book was designed by MENDO and all words are by Britta Flinterman. All profit will be donated to the homeless shelter located at the Transformatorweg in Amsterdam.
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